What the hell do we do now? This morning London’s airports are filling up with athletes heading home from the Olympics. It’s a nylon ocean of the tracksuited and fit. Some are carrying golden discs in their luggage; others are carrying crushed dreams. As their planes fade into the horizon they leave behind a city that discovered it rather liked playing host to the world. Londoners it turns out can out-smile the Thais, be as efficient as the Swiss and feed people as well as the French. It’s going to be tough having the city to ourselves again. We’ll miss our guests. It’s going to seem quiet without them.
But there’s something less tangible that we’ll also miss: the feeling that we were all caught up in the same moment. We have felt the power of shared experiences.
I once worked on a newspaper, a highbrow-ish one, where there was some hand-wringing over how to cover so called “water cooler moments”. These are those times, usually from popular culture, where everyone ends up standing around talking about the same story. The editor’s feeling was that a star’s indiscretion or a TV series’ dramatic twist needed to be acknowledged but certainly not at the cost of real news. So my paper, like many smart newspapers around the world, was often packed with great reporting but sounded like it didn’t know what the real hot topic of the day was.
The Olympics have offered editors no such challenges. From the romances to the grazed knees, the triumphs to the disasters, there has only been one story to splash across your front page. Papers in the UK have run up to 20 pages every day on the Games. The coverage has been patriotic, warm-hearted and generous. Even newspapers that normally seek to divide and cause unease have put away their acid pens. The press reflected a feeling that London and the country were united. And it was true.
Before the Games began there was perhaps a belief that the British were reluctantly picking up the bill for an event they were indifferent too. If that was the case, the mood vanished as fast as Usain Bolt as soon as the eccentric opening ceremony began. People wanted to be involved.
In the Monocle offices there have been conversations about sport among people, myself included, who would normally have nothing helpful to say on the topic. There have been moments when the office has stood around the TV monitors to watch frames of glory. People who thought they were immune to the Olympics’ appeal have begged and sweated to get tickets to something, anything. There have also been lots of early morning talk that started, “Did you see…”
We’ll all revert back to type in the coming days. It will be the same people who talk about football again (and they’ll be delighted not to put up with any more woeful sports analysis from me). And to be honest I’ll be happy about that. Yet for the past two weeks it’s been heartening for office, city and country to be seemingly thinking the same thing – for there to have been a national water cooler moment. It’s good to share. Oh well, it’s not long to Rio at least.